Review by jfvaughn1012
A little refinement goes a long way
This review is mainly focusing on the differences between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, as there are many. Those who loved/hated the first one may find that they feel the opposite regarding the newest installment. Myself, I feel both are brilliant, but the second trumps the first in many areas. The gameplay and especially the combat is on another level. Read on for a more detailed comparison.......
Mass Effect 1 is a great game, but like many other great games, it has some terrible design flaws. If you have played or choose to play through it (which you should if you enjoyed ME2, of course), along with one of the best storylines in gaming history, the start of a grand and original mythology that holds its own with the best science fiction in literature or film, and some pretty slick graphics for 2007, you had or have to deal with a broken loot system, sub-par combat (at least compared to other modern shooters), graphical texture pop in, loading issues, glitches, laughable A.I., copy and paste sidequests, etc. Many, like myself, looked past these issues, as Mass Effect was so amazing it overcame the sum of its parts, and Bioware made up for the mistakes of the first by giving a sequel that takes the most glaring problems and negates them. You can definitely tell they had more time (or at least time well spent, as a good part of the first one's development time was spent fixing design flaws and whatnot) and money this go around, and surely the experience gained and hard lessons learned during Mass Effect's creation helped. In this review, I am going to focus on the three areas of most necessary change in Mass Effect 2, the combat, exploration, and the loot system, and how it was done. I will also mention what is taken away that will be missed.
To fix the Mass Effect experience, Bioware had to make some tough decisions and many radical design changes, some that will piss off some old school RPG fans . To fix the loot system, they trashed it and rebuilt something far more simpler. Now there is a weapon loadout screen where you pick which guns you want out of a handful. And thankfully with each gun there is diversity, even in the same class of weapon. For example, you can choose between a semi automatic sniper or what is essentially a bolt action rifle. Nothing new in gaming altogether, but the guns of the first basically were all the same with different stats. Upgrades are streamlined, all you do is purchase or research the ones you want, and they are active without needing to equip anything. You can switch armor, each piece is interchangable and has specific stats, or if you want to, use the one piece downloadable joints (actually kind of meh on the latter). Less micromanagement is good, believe me.
Combat gets an overhaul as well, and for what it's worth (which is worth alot) is probably the best thing about Mass Effect 2. As opposed to being an RPG with shooter elements, Bioware puts the action first. The cover system and button layout for combat is much better. As opposed to the unwieldy grenades of the first game, you get to choose between 1 of 6 or so badass heavy weapons, all are completely different. Guns have accurate recoil, and damage is area specific. Unlike the first game, you get a damage bonus for headshots this time around. Ammo is no longer infinite as well, which adds some strategy and makes more sense. More diversity with the enemies, and the A.I. is much better, especially on Hardcore and Insanity (best take your diaper off if you want to f*** with insanity). But thats not all, the powers and power cooldowns are modified as well. Instead of each power having its own cooldown that can last up to a minute or more, powers recharge much quicker, but share cooldown. Nothing but positive changes regarding the combat of ME2.
The other main change Is the planet and exploration system. Mass Effect 1 had more planets and more to do than this one, but much of the previous entry's sidequests were filler. The same cookie cutter buildings with the same layouts were in use over and over, and you were forced to drive to them in a glorified moon buggy/ space tank that drove lik s***. Long, tedious hours were spent in ME1 to get all the acheivements driving and killing the same dull enemies with a few conversations in between. Mass Effect 2 has only 20 or so side missions you can do, and they do not affect the main mission aside from boosting your xp and cred amounts a bit. They are all in different locations with different buildings thankfully, actually some of the best looking areas of the game are in these bite sized missions. Nothing like navigating the framework of a huge, ancient spacecraft teetering off the side of a cliff looking for information. Kudos, Bioware, you turned an Achilles heel into subtle greatness.
Those are the most important positive adjustments of the Mass Effect brand, but what areas are worse for wear? Let's see... to me, not very much at all, but here they are. Unfortunately, the story takes a hit the most, being in the middle of a trilogy doesn't help I am sure. There is no main antagonist other than one enemy that spawn to face you repeatedly throughout the game, and of course the same threat whose plans you thwarted in the last game. Nothing like Saren at all. Also the majority of the game time is devoted to either recruiting party members or helping them with personal missions. The characters are brought to life so well through this its hard to complain, but a few more "important" missions would have been nice. Another complaint is the fact that if you choose to go renegade, by the end of the game you look likethe bottom of Emperor Palpatine's boot, that is unless you spend an insane amount of resources to remedy this. A few scars would be great for a more hardened "renegade" look , but glowing eyes and facial wounds is way too much. Even if you are an a**hole, you still are saving the galaxy. Lose the scabs, Bioware. Also the scanning is boring and tedious, but since it is an RPG and that is the only thing you will be grinding, it isn't too bad.
Even with the few things I believe could have been improved, I would rate this a 9.6, as it isn't perfect (I have yet to play a perfect 10 game) but I think it is much closer to a 10 than a 9, and better than the majority of the games out there. I hope they can continue with the strengths of the second in the 3rd installment, and give us more of a main quest story next time. For those complaining about the shift to a more action oriented experience, sorry you feel that way, but RPGs will have to adapt to survive in this market...... and thankfully, Bioware knows this.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Mass Effect 2 (US, 01/26/10)
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